Negotiating justice and (in)equality. Criminal justice trajectories in nineteenth-century Belgium, 1870-1914.

01 November 2023 → 31 October 2027
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • Modern and contemporary history
    • Socio-economic history
  • Social sciences
    • Courts and sentencing
    • Historical criminology
    • Punishment and criminal justice
Intersecting dimensions of social vulnerability Crime and criminal justice history Late nineteenth century Belgium
Project description

This project is the first attempt of its kind to examine the issue of (in)equality before the law in late-nineteenth-century Belgium (1870-1914), a key period of socio-economic change in which new forms of social vulnerability emerged. The aim is to renew and deepen our understanding of 1) the biases in the everyday administration of justice and 2) of the negotiations between defendants and justice officials. Integrating different lines of inquiry in an innovative way, I will approach the criminal justice system as a ‘multi-levelled arena’ in which each stage had a specific set of actors, particular power relations and processes of negotiation. The research will focus on property offences as these crimes were underpinned by unequal social power relations and because historians have mostly analysed the contexts of these offences, thereby disregarding the trials themselves. I will reconstruct individuals’ criminal justice trajectories by linking court and prison records, which is an underexplored strategy. This methodology allows me to zoom in on 1) individuals' pathways from the neighbourhood to court, 2) the trials and 3) the imprisonment and release. The project requires a combination of both a quantitative intersectional study and an in-depth qualitative analysis. Embedding the results in an interregional comparison between the jurisdictions of Bruges and Mons will provide a comprehensive insight into the daily functioning of the criminal justice system.